The name Dorothy Parker probably doesn’t mean anything to you, unless you’re a Hollywood film buff (she wrote the original screenplay, “A Star is Born” in 1937 with Robert Carson and Alan Campbell) and was nominated for a couple of Academy Awards for screenwriting.
She was also a poet and essayist, but was best known during her life as having a wit so sharp you could shave with it. When someone relayed the news to her that Calvin Coolidge had died, she quipped, “How could they tell?”
Ms. Parker was a graduate of Miss Dana’s School, a private finishing school in New Jersey, and promptly began getting her poems published after graduation. Over 300 would be published in the 1920s alone. With a ear for crackling dialogue, she was lured out west to Los Angeles, where she was soon earning $1000 a week as a screenwriter for the studios.
Never one to put herself or her craft on a pedestal, she once remarked that writing was the art of putting the rear end to the seat of a chair on a consistent basis. Witty repartee was only a veneer, as Ms. Parker soon ran afoul of the authorities in the McCarthy communist-hunting hysteria of the 1940s and 50s. Once on the short list for an Oscar, she found herself blacklisted.
Her life went on, unevenly, as anthologies of her poems were published quite successfully and her marriage went down a rocky path. When she died, 40 years ago today, she left her considerable fortune to Dr. Martin Luther King. When he was killed, the remaining proceeds were bequeathed to the NAACP.
She made her mistakes and lived her life. Daughter of a Jewish father and a Scottish mother, she stood up for people less fortunate than herself. And that’s Old Money Style.